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Mental health of women and ethnic minorities hardest hit by COVID-19

Women and people from BAME communities may have experienced the biggest impact on their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental health has always been a factor for concern during the Coronavirus pandemic, with recent reports highlighting just how big of an impact restrictions on daily life have had on people across the country..

However, as more and more data has come to light, it seems certain demographics have been disproportionately affected by the virus, at least in a physical sense.

Now, a new study from researchers at the University and Exeter and University of Glasgow suggests that the same discrepancies may also be seen in mental wellbeing.

Researchers from the two universities analysed data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which included over 14,000 people from across the country.

The study involved participants filling out a questionnaire that focused on 12 symptoms and the extent to which they had impacted the participants' lives.

These answers were collected and expressed as a figure on a scale of 0 to 36 – the higher the number, the higher the level of mental distress an individual had experienced.

The questionnaire was filled out before (between 2017 and 2019) and during (April 2020) lockdown restrictions were put into place and the differences between answered were measured.

Read more: 4 in 10 men struggling with their mental health during pandemic

When looking at specific demographics, the biggest increases in mental distress scores were recorded for women and people of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

White women experienced a change of 1.6 (a roughly 12% increase), BAME women of 1.7 (~13%), and BAME men of 1.5 (~12%). In comparison, white men experienced a change of 0.6 (~6.5%).

Similar patterns could also be seen when focusing on people of a Bangladeshi, Indian or Pakistani (BIP) background, although the biggest impact was seen in BIP men who had an average increase in mental distress scores of 2.5 (~20%).

The difference remained the same when taking into account socioeconomic measures, such as educational background, employment, and financial income. The researchers suggest that this could be down to the lack of interaction with members of similar ethnic backgrounds.

Although the findings are limited by the number of BAME participants in the study (1,066), the authors of the study say that the data could be hinting toward an ethnic discrepancy when it comes to the impact of COVID-19 on mental wellbeing and call for further research into understanding it.

"We call for additional research on the potential differential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by ethnicity, and urge both policy makers and researchers to allocate resources to collect larger sample sizes of minority ethnic groups," say the authors. "Future collection data efforts along this line will be important to investigate the potential consequences of the pandemic on both health and economic outcomes, the latter being also affected by the former via the link between wellbeing and productivity."

To read the full study, click here.

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